Sweden on Thursday said it would sue the European Commission over a delay in identifying harmful chemicals, blaming the slow pace of identification — which is meant to be the first step in a process of banning or restricting the use of dangerous chemicals — on heavy lobbying from the chemical industry.
"This (delay) is due to the European chemical lobby, which put pressure again on different commissioners," Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek told Agence France Presse.
The commission was due to set criteria by December 2013 that identified endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in thousands of products — including disinfectants, pesticides and toiletries — which have been linked to cancers, birth defects and developmental disorders in children.
"Hormone disrupters are becoming a huge problem," said Ek, explaining that Sweden and Denmark had written to the commission to demand action but to little avail.
"In some places in Sweden we see double-sexed fish. We have scientific reports on how this affects fertility of young boys and girls, and other serious effects."
European health and environment groups have also argued that the commission has bowed to pressure from the chemical industry, which is insisting on a consultation and more analysis before setting criteria, despite calls from scientists and the European Parliament for urgent action.
"What upsets me is that by doing this they are putting people and especially children at risk in a way that is not acceptable. By withholding the scientific criteria the commission is stopping us from improving things," said Ek, adding that she hoped the public would put pressure on Brussels to act.
In May 2013, leading public health scientists from around the world presented a declaration to the commission, demanding strict testing of the chemicals and rejecting the EU policy that low level exposure to the chemicals is safe.
Joe Hennon, spokesman for Janez Potocnik, the EU Environment Commissioner, said the delay was justified due to the "complexity of the issue, evolving science, and the diverging views existing among scientists and among stakeholders."
"We take the issue very seriously and are doing our best to address the issue," he said in an email to AFP.
The EU’s close cooperation with the chemical sector hasn’t exactly been a secret: Earlier this month, Lena Perenius, the director for the International Chemicals Management section of industry group European Chemical Industry Council, told Bloomberg BNA that the chemical industry believed the EU was “on the right path” with its regulations and taking a “realistic approach.”
The EU also received high marks from the American Chemistry Council, the main U.S. chemical lobbying organization.
“We were pleased to see that the EU position on chemical regulatory cooperation echoes many of the priorities identified in earlier industry submissions,” said Greg Skelton, the Council’s director of international and regulatory affairs.
Al Jazeera and AFP